Review by David Walters

The stories of those who stay and those who leave twist and entwine in a river of music.

Originally a one-act play, Anything That Gives Off Light has been turned into a pulsing and melodic performance piece by Brooklyn based The Team in conjunction with The National Theatre of Scotland.

The transformation works well in its current incantation as it is able to soar off the small stage at Joe’s Pub and reach into the hearts, minds and ears of the audience and take them on a thought provoking road trip.  The venue concentrates the story making it personal for both the audience and the performers, creating intimate opportunities to hear and share with each other in a different way than a full stage production would allow.

Brian (Reuben Joseph) is waiting in the London pub The Flying Scotsman for a childhood friend, Ian (Martin Donaghy) who is training down from Scotland where they both grew up.  Stopping in to get a drink before she picks up her rental car (don’t ask) is Red (Jessica Almasy), just off the plane from West Virginia on her second honeymoon to Scotland, alone,

Ian arrives with the printed program of the service of Brian’s grandmother, Granny Mac, who single handedly raised him, and sharply castigates him as he did not attend her funeral.  He is also carrying her ashes to give to Brian, poured inside a whiskey cylinder tube.

Brian is lost and doesn’t know what to do with either his past, the tube or the two people surrounding him.  Red offers to take them both with her, and thus begins a journey of “calibrating Scottishness” that reaches in and messes with the identities of who they each tell themselves they are.

Touching on both contemporary and historical truth and myth they find a frightening parallel between the modern Scots mindset and the Appalachian settlers who originally came from that part of the world.  Their lives and histories all emanated from the same place leaving its mark on the psych of each of the travelers; constant bitter defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Time and place become fluid from continent to continent and century to century, accentuated with hard driving Scottish-Appalachian music parings by the dynamite onstage band, wrapping itself around politics, memory and the clash of capitalism and socialism that led to massive displacements in the Scottish countryside and environmental destruction in the coalfields of West Virginia.

Anything That Gives Off Light is both an entertainment and a thought piece that focuses on whether we are stuck in our histories, or whether we can cast off the constrictive ties and reinvent new and better histories for ourselves in the modern world. 

After all, we are only a summation of our personal stories, whether true or false, past or present and they all come together to make us who we are.

Anything That Gives Off Light – Written by Jessica Almasy, Davey Anderson, Fraser Ayres, Rachel Chavkin, Brian Ferguson and Sandy Grierson; Directed by Rachel Chavkin.

With: Jessica Almasy (Red), Martin Donaghy (Iain) Reuben Joseph (Brian)

Onstage musicians: Jessie Linden (drums, vocals), Maya Sharpe (guitar, banjo, violin, vocals), Katrina Yaukey (accordion, vocals).

Running time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

Anything That Gives Off Light at the Joe’s Pub and runs through March 30. Tickets and information: Joe’sPub (tix price does not include either a 2 drink minimum or $12 food order per person)